On Monday this week the government announced a delay to the national plan for unlocking, with step 4 being delayed from Monday 21st June to Monday 19th July. Whatever we each feel about the delay, let’s be praying for our government as they make difficult decisions in the face of competing pressures on all sides.
Our original plan as a church had been that from Sunday June 27th we would return to holding 2 in person meetings each Sunday, at 9am and 11am, with kids work included and no need to book. The delay to step 4 impacts on these plans which now need to be delayed and adjusted.
Our new plan
For the next five Sundays, up to and including Sunday 18th July, we will continue just as we are. We will have one in person Sunday meeting at 10am each week, which will also be live streamed. Booking is now open for all of these Sundays, and you can access the booking system by following this link. Why not book right now to attend them all?
Remember, we can now sit in groups of six people, or groups of two households, so feel free to find someone else to book in with. Maybe you could encourage someone who hasn’t attended in person yet to come with you and sit together; you may be just the encouragement they need.
From Monday July 19th the church offices should reopen. We haven’t opened them yet because the official government advice is still ‘work from home if you are able to’, and most of the time we can. When that advice changes we will change and we expect that to be from July 19th as step 4 is reached.
From Sunday July 25th, the first Sunday after step 4, we will commence a plan to hold 2 in person Sunday meetings each week, at 9am and 11am, with children’s work included and (unless some official guidance says otherwise) no need to book. Our hope is that as step 4 is reached we will no longer be required to wear face masks and that we will be able to stand and sing together.
July 25th will be a special day for us
Obviously July 25th is the first Sunday of the school holidays, so in some ways it’s not ideal for making any big change. We know that some people will undoubtedly be away. Despite this, July 25th will be a special Sunday for us as a church for several reasons:
1. We will reopen fully as a church that day
It’s been a long time coming, but I can’t wait for us to be back together. Over the summer the meetings will be one hour in length, with a one hour gap to allow people to chat and socialise. We will hold two meetings each week to make sure we’re not too crowded when we get together, which may be important to some who have felt nervous about returning in person. Our live stream will continue during this time as well for those who need it.
2. We will restart our children’s work that day
Our kids have missed out on so much over the last year and they now need to be a high priority for us all. Starting children’s work will help to make church meetings more accessible for those with families and it will be good for our children. When we start the children will join us in the adult meeting for a short worship time together before they go out to enjoy a shorter children’s work together.
3. We will have baptisms that day
These baptisms will be a great celebration of what God has done over the last few months. If you’re a Christian and haven’t been baptised since you came to faith in Jesus, baptism is for you. If want to know more then please get in touch here. We would love to chat to you about baptism.
4. We will hold a ‘Back to Church’ Summer Social that afternoon
On the afternoon of July 25th, from 12.30pm to 4.30pm we will hold afun social event for the whole church. This will be an open air event with all food and drinks provided free of charge, along with bouncy castles and games for the kids. This will be a great chance for us all to get together and catch up with friends after such a long time. All you will need to bring is a chair or blanket to sit on. Details of the venue and how to book will be out soon.
Making the most of this time
This latest delay is disappointing for us all. It means we all have longer to wait for normality and it means we’re now restarting our fuller in person church meetings, with children’s work, just as the school holidays begin, which is a traditionally quiet time of year for us as a church and not a great moment to begin anything.
Despite all of this let’s do what we can to make the most of the season we’re in. Remember that you can meet indoors with six people or two households, and outdoors with groups of 30. Why not make the most of this to catch up with people in person? Why not meet in person as a life group too?
As we do this let’s not forget our Welcome Church Recovery Plan for 2021, of which this is just one small step. You can read more about that here.
And let’s all bookmark Sunday July 25th if we can.
As we restart in person meetings, let’s remember that our meetings are not an end in and of themselves; they serve a wider purpose. When we consider the effort involved in meeting in person again, and we ask ourselves how we feel about it all, let’s remember one thing:
It’s really not about you!
We are part of Jesus’ church; we belong to Him. When we gather it’s for His glory and not our own convenience or comfort. If we were only concerned about ourselves we might feel less motivated to make the effort, but God has a bigger role for us to play in the wider world as individuals and as a church.
Let me highlight the bigger picture in three ways:
1. We are part of a local community
It’s been said the church is the only organisation on the planet that exists mainly for the benefit of it’s non-members. Whether that’s accurate or not is a matter for debate, but it’s certainly true that our church is not just about us; we have a mission both to the town we live in and further afield. Jesus loves Woking, and so should we; His mission should be our mission.
As we start to gather in person again, our meetings are not just about being together and worshipping – although that is important – God actually has a role for us to play as a church in Woking, and a role for each individual to play in the places where they live and work; a role that goes way beyond our meetings. A key part of gathering together is about equipping people for the wider calling they have – the call to ‘love your neighbour’.
The last year has been challenging for our nation and people have been impacted in a lot of different ways. Challenges to health, finance, emotional wellbeing and more won’t disappear overnight and we may find that all sorts of situations of need are brought to our attention; let’s be ready to respond in faith and to help people across our community.
I’m especially looking forward to seeing each of our Welcome Works up and running again, remembering that we’re here to do good and to bring the kingdom of God to people. I’m also looking forward to seeing new people making a commitment to follow Jesus and getting baptised. I’m looking forward to seeing our children being taught and having fun together at church again. I’m looking forward to seeing more leaders raised up and released to serve our church and further afield.
2. We are part of the UK
One thing we need to do as we come back together is pray for our nation. Let’s pray for God to move in renewal and draw many people from across our nation into His Kingdom. We don’t know what God might do in the months ahead, but let’s pray for Him to use what’s happened with the pandemic for His purposes. Let’s pray for him to build his church in every town, city and village in the UK.
I have the joy of meeting (currently online) with leaders from our wider family of churches across the UK, as well as with church leaders from across our town. Every church is now considering how they unlock and at what pace, so it’s a journey we’re all on together, supporting and encouraging one another along the way.
Let’s pray for the church in our nation to stand on it’s feet again and find its voice again. Our nation needs the gospel right now more than ever, so let’s be praying that every church will play its part, whatever the cost, remembering that we’re all on the same team. Let’s pray for a revival.
3. We are part of an international family of churches
We belong to a family of churches called Commission, with churches in 14 different nations including the UK, Europe, South Asia, USA, South America, Africa, East Asia and the Middle East. Let’s remember that we have a part to play in that as well.
To highlight our belonging to an International family of churches there’s a one hour event this Sunday evening (28th March) at 7.30pm called Commission Global. I want to encourage as many of us as possible to join in.
You can register for this event using the link above, or it can be accessed via this video link:
There have been significant challenges during the last year and I don’t want to minimise those at all but – and let’s be really honest – there have also been some benefits. Many of us have gone out walking more, maybe we’ve had less meetings to attend, maybe we haven’t had to commute, there’s been less pollution, more Netflix and for Christians …
… Sunday mornings have been a LOT less pressurised!
There’s something nice about watching church in your pyjamas with the whole thing over in under an hour and the rest of the day free … something very nice indeed. There’s no pressure on us to arrive early to set up, or to stay late to clean up. No pressure to plan and deliver children’s work and youth work, to rehearse and play in the worship band, to serve refreshments with the “Brew Crew”, to welcome people, to talk to newcomers, to pray for people, or to face the challenge of getting your family ready, finding a place to park and turning up roughly on time. In some ways we’ve enjoyed ‘church lite’ for a year now, and who would be in a rush to give that up?
But in this area of our lives, as in so many others, what’s best for us may not be what’s easiest!
We have a big calling
Jesus loves the church … Jesus died for the church … Jesus is building His church … and WEare His church. The church is us – the people. We are His body, His bride, His flock, His army, His family and a whole lot more. God’s plans and purposes in our world will be worked out in and through His church, and as a church we are called by God to gather together, to pursue the Great Commission and the Great Commandment, to not give up meeting together … and all of that takes effort.
When the restrictions on churches are lifted (and rumour is that they will be reviewed in line with Step 3 of the National Plan, earliest May 17th) there are lots of things we haven’t been able to do for a while that we really need to pursue again, and we need to pursue them with passion and enthusiasm, and without arguing or complaining. The list above speaks to some of these areas. In reality we would probably all agree that we should be serving our children and youth well, worshipping God together, creating a welcoming environment, sharing fellowship, ministering to one another and leading our families into God’s plans and purposes too … so all the things we haven’t had to do (or been able to do) for a year will soon be a regular part of our church life together again … and we need them to be.
So there’s going to be a cost
As we return to in person meetings again it’s going to take effort and sacrifice from us all. It will mean getting up on Sunday, getting dressed, and actually leaving our houses again. It will mean less lie-ins and more time spent gathering together as a church and being with other people. It will mean overcoming our natural laziness and selfishness, and giving up our comfort. It will mean putting in the time and effort it takes to serve in various ways. And of course it’s going to be a privilege to be part of serving and building the church again in person.
Just like before the pandemic we will need people to plan and run children’s work and youth work, to serve refreshments, to wash up, to help in the car park, to run the PA and AV systems, to lead and play in worship, to pray for people, to welcome people and to do all the many other jobs that go into being together as a church, and …
… the cost of serving is a price worth paying
The Bible is clear that God sees what we do for Him and will reward us for it. Let’s not be afraid to start working together again to make Sunday meetings happen in the months ahead. It may feel daunting right now, like heading back to work or school on the first Monday after a summer holiday, but it’s amazing how fast we readjust. And remember that the goal is worth pursuing too: Jesus is worth worshipping, the church is worth prioritising and we each have a part to play in God’s wonderful mission to our town.
We have a fantastic vision as a church …
“to see lives transformed and communities impacted for good through God’s grace in action”
… so let’s not be afraid of a little action. We have a town to reach with the gospel, and a wider world too, and gathering as a church to worship, to pray, to minister, to be equipped and to grow together as a family is key to that happening, which will mean getting up, getting ready, and leaving home, with all the stress that can bring!
Each one of us has a part to play
Remember, the church is Jesus’ body (1 Corinthians 12) and every part of that body is needed. This means that your church needs you. The question to ask is not, “Will I be part of it again?” but rather “What part shall I play?” Some of us may want to step into different roles than before, and that’s okay, but if that’s the case let’s each be sure that we communicate well, hand over well and we don’t just ‘abandon post’. In the church we’re all called to serve one another, and the time is fast coming when we’ll need to step up again in all the different ways.
In the gospels Jesus called us to count the cost of following him. This particular cost is a relatively small one. No one is asking us to lay down our lives and die for the gospel at this time in the UK, but returning to in person church meetings could mean giving up a little more of our time and comfort on a Sunday and going the extra mile.
Jesus said to his disciples, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it.” (Matthew 16v24-25)
So let’s go for this together and let’s be ready to step up and play our part in the body.
Online church has been a blessing during the pandemic
Throughout this time, despite many limitations, online church has enabled us to stay together as a church – to worship, to pray, to preach the Bible and to maintain a sense of community. New people have joined us during this time too, which is great.
Of course there’s been much more to our online church than just Sunday mornings. There have been Alpha Courses, life groups, prayer meetings, training meetings, pastoral care, a leadership development course, communion, Encounter, the marriage course and much more.
So what about the future? What’s our direction of travel for online church?
Some things are really obvious
We’ve learnt many lessons about what’s possible online during this time. Some ministries have worked surprisingly well online, others less so. Beyond the pandemic we want to hold on to the good things we’ve learnt, so some things that work well online might stay online, or at least retain an online option going forwards – what we might call a ‘hybrid’ approach.
Alpha is a good example of this. We will undoubtedly run Alpha courses in person, but an online option could serve some people well, so we may want to offer this. Most Life Groups will want to meet in person again, but there may be some who choose to use an online option sometimes, or even regularly. Some of our courses could run well online and save the need for baby sitters and travel, especially on dark, wet evenings. And our morning prayer meetings have seen more people attending online than attended in person, and that number has grown again recently too.
Equally some things have worked less well online, and we’ve got no plans to continue them online once we can meet in person. Some examples would be Encounter, Welcome Kids, Welcome Youth and Communion. There are other things too.
What about Sunday meetings online?
By talking to other churches and through the Learning Community we attended we’ve discovered that there are some wildly differing views about this question in the wider Christian world, for example:
Some are certain that the future of the church is now online: they argue that we should spend our budget building online church and hiring online pastors. Buildings should be given over mainly to community use and meeting in person would become a rarity – something left over from a previous generation who had yet to discover the wonder of the internet. The Great Commission to ‘Go and make disciples …‘ gets reshaped as ‘Go online and make disciples …‘
Some are pushing for more of a mix: they see the need for an in person congregation for those who want that, but also want to create the option of a fully online congregation where people access their whole church life online, from anywhere in the world, never expecting to meet in person at all. This has been called ‘brick and click’.
Some are wanting to prioritise in person meetings, whilst maintaining an online Sunday presence: the online meeting would serve people within the church when they are unable to attend in person, and would also create an online ‘shop window’ for people looking in. This could be done using either live streamed or pre-recorded content. This is different to having a fully online congregation, in that the goal is to draw people towards in person meetings.
Some are convinced that online church isn’t church at all: they argue that we need to be together physically in real time to exist as a church. Most of these would agree that online technology was a huge blessing during the pandemic, but there are a few who have held out against it all the way through, and haven’t met as churches at all during this time.
There are many different nuances and versions of each of these viewpoints, but the categories above give an idea of the broad spread of thinking that exists. Some of it may surprise you. Some of these options certainly provoke theological questions … and I didn’t even mention the churches that now offer an online, virtual baptism (with no actual water involved 🙂)
We should of course remember that context matters. For example someone might have theological concerns about a fully online congregation, but still be able to see how it could be used to reach and serve people in a nation where the church is not allowed to meet in public, or where there is no church at all. An online Sunday meeting might not tick every box we want it to, but in some situations it could serve the housebound or create an opportunity for people to ‘visit’ a church before attending in person.
Where do we sit on this issue?
As a church our future plans come down to a combination of Biblical conviction, our vision, values and culture as a church, and our sense of God’s leading. Online meetings have served us during the pandemic, but our ability to do many things we value has been restricted. Worship would be top of a long list for me and fellowship would be second. Baptism would be high on my list too.
Biblical conviction tells us that the church is God’s family; his household (1 Tim 3v15). Church is the people, and people need to be together, in person, to build deep relationships. As an illustration, Jo and I have spent time with some of our wider family ‘online’ during the pandemic, but we’re longing to be together in person again; meeting online has just not been the same – and the ones who feel it most in our family are the younger ones who are more tech savvy that I’ll ever be. I also have a friend who’s grandchild was born in Canada during the pandemic. They’ve seen the baby online, but are absolutely desperate to go and visit in person as soon as they’re allowed.
The presence of God is also promised when we gather. We heard from a couple who joined us during the year before the pandemic hit, and who recently got baptised. They said that when they first walked into our building on a Sunday they experienced a powerful feeling they’d never encountered before. They now know that it was God’s presence amongst His people. In one way God is present everywhere (He is omnipresent). In another way He is present in the life of every individual Christian too. Both of these things are true when we gather online. But there is a powerful sense of God’s presence that only occurs in real physical places when we gather together, in person, in His name, to worship Him and lift Him up. That sense of God’s powerful presence that we experience together in person can never be replaced or replicated by an online meeting.
Of course there are things we can do well online but there’s so much we’re called to do together as God’s family that requires us to be together physically. We deeply value the sense of God’s presence when we gather in person. We value being able to minister to one another, to lay hands on one another, to pray over one another, to share communion together, to greet one another with love and affection, to baptise people, to serve together, to disciple one another, to share life together, to invite guests to join us, to eat together, to use spiritual gifts together, to teach our children and youth in a context where they are together with their friends in person, to worship together, to share life together and much more besides. All of these things will be done best in person.
Think about discipleship: we can impart information and run courses online, but discipleship is about more than information and courses. Discipleship includes sharing life together, walking alongside one another, being known, seeing how things are done in real life. There’s nothing like serving side by side to enable rapid discipleship, and that happens in person.
To use an illustration, people may choose to engage in online dating, but the goal is to meet in person. In the same way, people have connected with us online during the pandemic – which is great – but the vast majority have done so with a clear view to attending in person meetings when they restart.
Our culture as a church matters too: we use phrases such as ‘come as you are’ and ‘it matters that you’re here’ and ‘with you, for you’. All of this points us towards being together in person and not just online. Welcome Church culture includes a wide open front door, great coffee and a warm embrace; it needs to feel like coming home.
Finally on this point, God cares about the physical world; the physical matters as much to God as the spiritual. Jesus entered the world in flesh and blood in order to be GOD WITH US, he didn’t just send a message or wave from a window in heaven. His earthly ministry was spent travelling together with his disciples, eating with them, talking with them and being with them – God with us in person. And then He died for us physically. A real event in real time. Touchable. Personal. Painful. Costly. Done in person and not virtually or at a distance.
With all this in mind we have some clear priorities regarding our Welcome Church Sunday meetings as we come out of the pandemic:
We will prioritise restarting physical meetings, in person, where we can do all the things God is calling us to do as a church together and where we can enjoy and experience His powerful presence – this is priority one
We will aim to use online technology to help serve people who are part of our church and who CANNOT attend in person on a Sunday, and we’ll also aim to use it to help new people connect to us, but these two things don’t necessarily have to be done as a live streamed meeting on a Sunday morning.
For clarity: we do not believe God is leading us to build an online congregation of Welcome Church after the pandemic; that’s not our goal at this time, even though some other churches may be led by God to do that; if they are we wish them nothing but success.
This year we want to focus on being back together in person, in our new building, and working through our Welcome Church Recovery Plan. If we were going to put our energy into building something new, a higher priority for us would be a church plant or a multisite (meeting in person) … though a multisite is one of several places where the live streaming we’ve learnt to do might come into its own again.
What does this mean practically?
Decision vs Discovery
Because the situation we face is so complex at the moment (see yesterday’s blog) we need to see our next steps as more like a journey of discovery, than the implementation of a set of decisions. Nothing we will do is set in concrete at this stage. We will take steps, review them, and adjust as we go along to discover the best way forward for our church, and some of that discovery will only happen as we actually attempt some things together. I’m confident that we’ll work out fairly fast what works and what doesn’t, what’s sustainable and what isn’t, what has life in it and what hasn’t.
At the moment almost everything we do is online. When we start in person Sunday meetings again, most people will still be at home, being served by the live-streamed meeting. The live-stream has created a great runway for our return to in person meetings and is going to serve us so well during this time.
At some point we will find ourselves in a situation where most people are with us in person and less people are at home. Eventually we will reach the place where we have capacity for anyone who wants to attend in person to do so, with children’s work in operation as well.
When this last stage is reached, online Sunday meetings won’t be necessary in the same way they are now, although we will probably always want our preaching to be available for people to watch, perhaps because they’ve been away or were serving during the meeting, or are not able to attend a Sunday meeting in person. This doesn’t necessarily mean live-streaming the meeting it as it happens, but it could do. We would also want to keep on connecting to new people and give them a chance to see something of what our Sunday meetings are like before they attend in person; we want a wide front door. Again, this doesn’t necessarily mean live streaming the meeting it as it happens, but it could do. As we go forward we will discover the best solutions.
As we undertake this journey of discovery and change together, moving back towards full in person meetings again, let’s trust God to make the future clear and let’s stay flexible and wide open to His leading.
“Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not rely on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will direct your paths.” Proverbs 3v5-6
We mark one year of online church meetings this week, so I’m publishing some blog posts to talk about where we’ve been and our thoughts for the future. Yesterday I talked about ‘one year of online church’; today I want to start looking forwards.
Recently a group of us were part of an online ‘Learning Community’, with churches from across the UK and Europe, looking at the future of church life as we emerge from the pandemic. We quickly learnt that this wasn’t a simple or straightforward topic, and we encountered some wildly differing views about the future and even about the nature of the church itself! I’m so glad God is with us on this unlocking journey (and He left us an amazing book called the Bible that has a lot to say about the nature of the church …)
Complicated vs Complex
Some situations we face in life are complicated. For example, Jo and I recently purchased something requiring self assembly. When we got the pieces out of the box it was more complicated than we’d expected, but it came with good instructions. We followed these and the result was a success.
Complicated situations can be tackled by consulting experts and following best practice; if we do this we can usually manage complicated situations fairly well. Another recent example was setting up our Livestream for Sundays; it was technically complicated, but a combination of expertise and hard work delivered a great result – my personal thanks to all involved.
But some situations are more than complicated, they are COMPLEX. When something is complex it means there is no clear and established solution, and no certainty around best practice. We are walking an unmarked path, and the circumstances around us may be changing as we go. The end goal may even be a little unclear and there are no genuine experts available (though there will always be people who claim to be experts offering to sell their services 🙂).
When things are complex we have to work out the way forward step by step, adapting as we go, using the best wisdom and advice available, consulting with others along the way. We have to stop along the way to assess our progress and direction of travel. We will probably make mistakes and have to learn from them. We may have to backtrack sometimes. It’s a case of “plan, do, review” or “act, assess, adapt” or “build, measure, learn” (pick your preferred phrase).
As we start to unlock from coronavirus let’s be aware that we are in a COMPLEX situation as a church, not just a complicated one. Circumstances around us keep changing and it doesn’t take long to find out there are wildly differing views available about the process of unlocking, the pace we go at and even the end goal, especially when it comes to the topic of online church .
Time and again we’ve been told that after the pandemic ‘nothing will ever be the same again’ and ‘things won’t go back to how they used to be‘ and ‘we need to find a new normal’. I find myself asking: Is that really true? Is it true for our church? If so, what does it mean? Even if things largely do go back to how they used to be, how long will it take? What stages will we face along the way? Who will actually come on the journey with us?
Although some of the specific challenges we’ll face along the way will be complicated, the bigger picture is complex. Please pray that we have great wisdom as a team.
It’s easy to plan when you have certainty about the future; far harder when the goals posts keep moving, as has been the case all the way through the pandemic.
Today is the anniversary of the first lockdown being announced. It’s possible that all restrictions will lift by the end of June never to return. It’s also possible that this will be delayed. Or that some restrictions will stay. Or that there will be a fourth lockdown as we go into the winter. Or that a dangerous new variant will emerge. Or that the vaccination programme will be delayed. Or that guidance for churches will change. Or that any other number of unexpected things may happen.
If there’s one thing we need to remember as we head back towards in person meetings as a church it’s this:
we need to be flexible
Let’s remember: when the pandemic began none of us honestly expected to still be in Lockdown today, but here we are.
In person meetings
Our first in person meeting is planned for Sunday 18th April …
(Assuming step 2 of the national plan goes ahead on April 12th as scheduled. If it doesn’t we will take a view and make a decision; none of us want to delay, but it’s complex and the situation is changing. Government advice to churches may also be updated along the way, as could general advice. Watch this space. Stay flexible.)
… and during the online Sunday meetings running up to that date we’ll let you know how you can book a place to attend; be ready to book in for that week and for the weeks ahead. I want to reassure everyone that we will follow the guidance for churches to make things Covid secure, so you can feel confident about returning in person; personally I can’t wait.
When we start these meetings, places will be limited. As far as we can tell right now face masks will be mandatory, congregational singing prohibited and social distancing will be in place. There will also be no children’s work or refreshments, but we do hope to have a live band and you’ll certainly be able to enjoy the preach as it happens and to smile behind your mask at people and wave. Despite everything I believe it will be well worthwhile!
Looking to the future though, the situation is complex: What new advice will be given to churches and when? How will the guidance change? When can we sing? What about serving coffee or food? How long will we have to wear face masks? When will social distancing end? When can we start to engage in prayer ministry? When will children’s work begin? Will vaccine passports be legally required for meetings of a certain size? If so will this apply to churches? We’d all like to think the end is in sight with step 4 in June (please 🙏) but it may be much more complex than that in reality.
Our hope is that as restrictions ease, in person meetings will slowly return to (a new?) normal … and this will require many of us stepping up to serve again, so let’s be ready (and this is just another aspect of the complexity we face).
Remember, as Christians we are not on our own. Jesus is with us always, He sent the Holy Spirit to be our helper and we are also encouraged to ask the Father for wisdom:
“If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you.” James 1v5
What about the future of online church?
Of course when we do start in person meetings most people will still be watching from home, so I’ll post something about the future of online church tomorrow
Last week the government announced a plan for ‘unlocking’ as a nation following Covid. The plan consists of four steps taken at five-week intervals. On Sunday morning I talked about what this could mean for our Sunday meetings as a church, and below is another brief summary. This is an exciting time now with the end of restrictions perhaps in sight, though there could be some delays and changes. If all goes as planned, we might be holding full Sunday meetings, in person, this side of the summer.
Some Guiding Principles
To guide our thinking and planning as a church, we will follow three guiding principles:
We will follow both the guidance, and the spirit of the guidance. Let’s remember that what’s permissible and what’s beneficial are not always the same. Technically we’re allowed to run in person meetings right now, but they’re heavily restricted and almost unrecognisable from how we would want to meet.
We will keep an eye on how people in our church are feeling. We need to stay alert to how ready people are to attend meetings in person and also on how ready we are as a church to run them. The vaccine rollout seems to be going well in the UK, but many in our church are still waiting and may feel vulnerable.
The pace does not need to be the same for every activity. We are not going to pressure ourselves to restart everything at once, especially in light of our Welcome Church Recovery Plan, built around the principles of Renew, Refresh, Rebuild. Some ministries may not restart until the autumn, and others may never restart.
The government plan consists of four steps, and we will make changes as a church in line with each of these steps:
Step 1 (March 8th & 29th)
Children go back to school from March 8th. During this stage we will continue our meetings online as a church, and will be working in the background to get our worship team up and running again with live worship.
From March 29th outdoor gatherings of up to six people (or two households if this is larger) are allowed, not just in parks but also in gardens. Once this happens Life Groups may want to take the opportunity for groups of 6 people to get together outdoors.
Step 2 (Earliest April 12th)
At this stage of unlocking we’ll see hair dressers return (hooray!) and non-essential retailers opening too. Indoor leisure facilities such as gyms and pools will also reopen, albeit with restrictions. In line with this step we intend to start an in person Sunday meeting. People will have a chance to book to attend each week and details will follow.
We don’t yet know what restrictions will be in place for church meetings at this point. We still expect numbers and activities will be very limited and most people will be watching online. Those who attend in person at that time will probably simply be present as we do the live stream.
Step 3 (Earliest May 17th)
At this point indoor gatherings of up to six people (or two households if this is larger) are allowed, which is great news for our Life Groups. Most indoor venues will re-open and groups of 30 can also meet outdoors.
At this step we hope to significantly enlarge the number who can attend on a Sunday. Many more of us will also have had the privilege of a vaccine by then too, so we may well see things really starting to open up. Again, we don’t know what restrictions will be in place for church meetings at this point, but we hope to see these easing and will make the most of whatever opportunities the regulations afford.
Step 4 (Earliest June 21st)
At this step legal limits will be removed on mixing and everything can reopen. Large events are allowed take place again too. There are likely to be changes to social distancing measures at this step, but details are still to be confirmed.
At this step we hope to return to more normal meetings and would want to restart kids work if we can. We will also need to reconsider what happens with our live stream.
At present Welcome Youth are having a great time online in small groups working through the NUA Film series. They will continue online for the remainder of this term, allowing our youth to re-adjust to school life without being overburdened with change. We want to ensure both the safety of our youth and the quality of their time together, so we plan to return to ‘in person’ youth meetings on Fridays in the summer term, all done under the guidelines in place at the time.
Remember: all of this is subject to change!
We plan to take our steps as a church in line with the four national unlocking steps. Each of these steps has a ‘no earlier than’ date and each will only go ahead after an official review. If one step is delayed they will all be delayed, and that could delay us too. We appreciate people being really flexible. Let’s all be praying that there are no delays.
On Monday the government announced a “Four Step” process for unlocking as a nation following the pandemic. This Sunday morning at Welcome Church Online I’m going to be sharing news about how these steps affect us as a church, and about the principles behind our plans for returning to in person meetings.
Each week we go live at 9.45, and this information will be shared at some point before 10. Make sure you don’t miss it!
This week I’m blogging about our Welcome Church Recovery Plan for 2021, following the pandemic. This post is Part 3 of a short series. If you missed the other posts, please read those first. You can find the first one by clicking here.
Although we’re currently in another lockdown, we’re expecting to go through a gradual process of returning to normal life this year as more and more people are vaccinated.
In Part 1 of this short series I talked about how, as we return to normal life again, our return tochurch life needs to feel like coming home, and not be done in a way that places unrealistic demands on people.
In part 2 I talked about some key challenges we face and about how this year we need to ask not “What CAN we do?”, but “What SHOULD we do?” I also talked about how, following the challenges of the pandemic, being together in person as a church is going to be more important than ever.
So how are we going to approach this year?
As a team we’ve prayerfully put together our Welcome Church Recovery Plan. The plan isn’t a schedule of activities or a list of SMART goals for the year; it’s a description of the ethos we want to adopt this year as a church; the sort of culture we want to build. The plan is built around three ‘R’s – Renew, Refresh, Rebuild.
The three ‘R’s’ will form the back-bone of our year, and will underpin and give shape to our pastoring, our planning, our preaching and our programmes. Let’s look at them one at a time:
Renew: a focus on relationship/people, including …
Renewal of a vibrant and meaningful relationship with Jesus
Renewal of our sense of ‘sonship/daughterhood’ before our Heavenly Father
Renewal of our emotional health and well being
Renewal of a Biblical pattern of church life together (see Acts 2v42-47)
Renewal of friendship, of fun and of a sense of adventure together
Refresh: a focus on our vision/strategy, including …
Refreshing our understanding of God’s plans and purposes for His church
Refreshing our vision and mission as Welcome Church
Refreshing our “rhythms of life” as a church; what we do weekly, termly and annually
Refreshing our approach to “whole life discipleship”
Refreshing our individual, God given sense of purpose and calling
Rebuild: a focus on tasks/doing, including …
Rebuilding our Holy Spirit filled, leadership faith for the mission
Rebuilding our Welcome Church staff team to full strength, in every way
Rebuilding our core meetings and ministries
Rebuilding our ministry teams and serving roles
Rebuilding our presence in the community
To put it in a sentence:
“In 2021, as we unlock, we will aim to RENEW our relationships with God and with one another, to REFRESH our vision and our strategy, and to REBUILD our core church ministries and our faith for the mission”
This will help us achieve a fourth ‘R’: RECOVERY
This is a recovery plan to help us recover from the challenges of the pandemic and find fresh faith and momentum for the future. The goal is that Jesus is glorified in us and that the Great Commission moves ahead through us as we step out in faith. God has big plans for our church in the years ahead, so let’s get ready.
Tomorrow in the final part of this short series I will consider some of the questions our plan raises and some of the implications of it.
I love our church and I can’t wait to meet together in person again. I miss seeing people and I miss our corporate times of worship and ministry. Although we have a great online church, this time of Lockdown is not something I’m enjoying at all.
Yesterday announcements were made about the lifting of some of the aspects of Lockdown from Saturday July 4th, and part of this related to church. Naturally some people are getting excited and have even asked when we plan to start meeting again on Sundays in person.
Let me say that, although I love the enthusiasm and I share it, we must remember when announcements are made that we only get headlines; the full guidance follows in long documents. All churches are unique and need to individually assess what is safe in accordance with the guidance to be issued and our own context. The manner and timing of ‘re-opening’ will undoubtedly vary a lot from church to church.
The latest updates are a mixed bag, and during our online communion on July 5th we will bring you fully up to date with our plans as they stand.
In the meantime, here are a few thoughts to keep you going for now:
Weddings are allowed again from July 4th … sort of
To get legally married people need to first declare their intent to marry a month in advance at the register office and then bring us their ‘blue form’ (this has always been the case – nothing new here). Sadly the register office is not yet open, so you can see the problem.
Weddings will need to follow Covid-19 Secure guidelines which mean that up to a maximum of 30 people can attend, all at a social distance. No singing is allowed so there will be no worship band. There will also be no food, no drinks and no party. Every surface will need to be cleaned afterwards. The toilets would probably have to operate a “1 in 1 out” system to avoid people coming into close contact.
In short, it’s mixed news and not straightforward. Despite these restrictions we look forward to seeing people legally married soon, especially James and Hannah, who’s plans have been delayed.
What about other meetings?
Meetings of up to 30 people will be allowed from July 4th … but only as long they follow the Covid-19 Secure guidelines. This means social distancing must be in place. It also means no singing, no handshakes, no hugging, and that all interactions with anyone you do not share a household with must be minimised. The points that apply to weddings also apply here (apart from needing a blue form 🙂)
In reality there are a lot more aspects to the guidelines as well, and we are probably still some way away from meeting together in person as a church for anything like a full Sunday meeting. I know this is frustrating and disappointing but remember:
Church is about more than our Sunday meetings; we are a family together
We are still the church even without being able to meet in our building.
So since two households are now allowed to get together indoors, you could take advantage of that to see people from church. You could even do it on a Sunday morning and enjoy online church together, but do bear in mind that you are still supposed to be socially distant, and you are not supposed to prepare food together or share utensils … and you shouldn’t really sing.
On days with good weather you can meet with up to five other people outside, and Life Groups could start to take advantage of this, but please remember that the same rules apply!
So how will we formulate our plans going forward?
Beyond the official guidelines, here are some key factors we need to consider:
1. The quality of what we do
When we start Sunday meetings in person again, whatever size they are and whatever form they take, the total experience needs to at least be as good as we get online. Thirty people wearing face masks, keeping away from each other and not allowed to sing does not tick that box for us! It would also not bless those involved or help us reach new people at all.
In the mean time we are always looking at Sundays online to see how they can continue to be improved.
2. Children and youth
This is a huge factor for us as a church because we love our kids and youth and there are a lot of them! Before we do anything we need to know that our children’s work can be delivered in a way that the children will safely enjoy, that parents and leaders will be confident in, and which will comply with all the relevant guidelines.
One of the main reasons we come together is to join together in an act of worship to God, and at the heart of this is our sung worship time. If singing is not allowed we may decide that we are better off staying as we are for a while longer.
We do want to be on the front foot with this, but being on the front foot isn’t the same as rushing back to what we had before. Instead it means listening to and embracing what God is doing at every step of the way, remembering that God’s people have been in various types of “Lockdown”, many times before … like Jonah, Daniel, Paul, Noah, Joseph and the whole nation of Israel at times too. God is in control of all our days. Let’s be patient.
In the meantime online church continues, so does online Alpha, prayer, kids work, youth work and Life Groups and more, and please remember: the Holy Spirit is not confused by Zoom or by the internet! God can still work in us and through us, and we can still meet with him.
In short, we are not in a rush to make changes, but neither do we want to delay unnecessarily. We will take all of these factors into account and make decisions in ways that are faith filled, sensible, legal, practical and will help us move forward together best as a church.
Please pray that God gives us great wisdom
For now, please put Sunday July 5th in your diary
That evening, at 6.30pm, we will have online communion together, led by my friend Tim Robertson from Compassion UK. This will be followed by a time of sharing updates and information from Welcome Church.
These updates will include the latest information relating to coming out of Lockdown, and also the details of an exciting staff change, and it will all be over by 8pm.